BAGHDAD — Iraq's Parliament will meet today to elect a new president, a crucial step toward naming a new prime minister and government, but questions are growing about whether anyone can save the country after the collapse of its army and the loss of as much as half its territory to the radical Islamic State for Iraq and Syria.
In a sign of the erosion of political order, 100 people are competing in today's vote — for a post whose occupant in past years was determined in advance by power brokers.
"Tomorrow's vote will be devoid of any political deals," newly appointed Speaker of Parliament Salim Al-Jabouri said Tuesday. "We will evaluate nominations with complete equality."
The most prominent candidate is Barham Salih, a former prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government and a moderate politician who has reached out to nearly every other faction.
Like nearly all the Sunni and Kurdish lawmakers and most Shiite Muslims, Salih is highly critical of the current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, for mismanaging relations with Kurds and Sunnis, and for security forces corruption, which is blamed for their rout last month at the hands of Islamic extremists throughout northern and western Iraq.
By tradition, the speaker of Parliament should be a Sunni, the prime minister a Shiite, and the successor to the outgoing president, Jalal Talabani, should be a Kurd.
At least two of the candidates are Kurds. But this time, Kurds have announced a referendum on independence and are halfway out the door.